November 7, 2007
New York, Opinions

Turning air: The charm of windmills and wind turbines

We recently vacationed in Hancock, a small village in the Berkshire Mountains of northwestern Massachusetts. As we drove into that incredibly beautiful valley, we were stunned by the sudden stark appearance of a huge white cross, sticking high out of the forested hillside, just beginning to show its autumn splendor.

We had just been exposed to our first wind turbine. We soon saw that the wind turbine dominated the scene, no matter where we were in the valley, and we were told that it was the first of 11 that were to be installed to provide power for a nearby ski resort. I can’t even imagine what 11 of them will do to that valley.

With wind turbines being proposed for Ithaca, Newfield and Enfield, seeing that huge structure dominating the scene from virtually every location was a constant reminder of what we could soon be living with here in Tompkins County. Some wind turbines are nearly as high as a football field is long, and they are always erected on the most conspicuous sides of hills, to intercept the maximum amount of wind.
The Hancock residents I talked with seemed to be evenly divided in their opinion of their wind turbine – and soon to be many more. One farmer told me that it “did not bother him”. Another farmer said that he had been informed that the wind-turbine project would eventually reduce his electric bill by about two cents a month, and he thought that was not much recompense for having to look at them. A waitress in a restaurant said that she thought they were “cool.”

While I was photographing the historic Hancock town hall, with the wind turbine looming in the background, a member of the town board stopped by. She said that unfortunately nothing could be done to stop the wind turbines because they have no zoning laws. What concerned her most, she said, was that wind turbines have a useful life for about 25 years, and there was no provision for their removal once their life was over. She feared they would remain on their hillsides forever, or until they rotted and fell down some time in the distant future.

Wind turbines vs. windmills

Wind turbines are often compared with windmills. We lived in the Netherlands for seven years, and we saw hundreds of them. In the center of the village we lived in there was a lovely windmill that was still grinding grain after hundreds of years. They hardly compare with wind turbines. Windmills are esthetically pleasing and tiny compared with wind turbines. Holland is a flat country, which means that they cannot be placed on promontories. You can’t see Dutch windmills from very far away. It is also a maritime nation, with virtually constant winds coming off the North Sea. By contrast, wind turbines in our area have enough wind to function only about 50 percent of the time. The Hancock wind turbine was static for much of the time we were there, but it was no less conspicuous when it was still.

Considering that most of our petroleum comes from countries that despise us, and the price keeps rising, we certainly must find alternatives, but because of the visual pollution and unreliability of wind turbines, they would be at or near the bottom of my list of options, at least for our area. We have hardly begun to exploit our alternatives: solar, water and tidal, nuclear, geothermal, natural gas and coal.

One thing is certain: We need to think long and hard about whether we want to deface our lovely Tompkins County hillsides with huge white spinning crosses.

By Alan Mark Fletcher
Special to The Journal

Alan Fletcher is a retired science editor and journalist. He resides in Ithaca.

The Ithaca Journal

7 November 2007

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